2021 D-I Men’s Breakout Player of the Year

Highlighting players who took a leap toward stardom in the division this fall.

Ultiworld’s 2021 College Awards are presented by the National Ultimate Training Camp; all opinions are those of the author(s). NUTC helps young players become better athletes and community members.

Each year, Ultiworld presents our annual College Awards. While the 2021 college season certainly wasn’t typical with its abbreviated regular season and the first to host a fall Championship Series, we still want to celebrate and honor the tremendous performances we saw.

The Breakout Player of the Year recognizes players who made themselves known in a new light this season. Typically reserved for rising juniors and seniors, we have temporarily expanded the eligibility for this award due to the unusual nature of the fall Series and multi-season pandemic hiatus. While our nebulous definition of “breakout” reflects an evolving set of criteria, rather than celebrating the improvement of those from whom big things were already expected, we aim to use this award to celebrate the emergence of those who previously have not been on the national radar. Whether it be through growth in ability, role, or both, the Breakout Player of the Year and runners-up honor those who rose to the occasion with improved and high-impact performance on a new level this fall — putting them squarely in the spotlight moving forward.

D-I Men’s 2021 Breakout Player Of The Year

Adam Miller (Georgia)

Georgia's Adam Miller. Photo: William 'Brody' Brotman -- UltiPhotos.com
Georgia’s Adam Miller. Photo: William ‘Brody’ Brotman — UltiPhotos.com

If you were paying very close attention, you could have seen Adam Miller’s day in the spotlight coming. Part of a YCC championship team in 2019, he arrived at Georgia the following year with bona fides, part of Jojah’s best recruiting class in at least a decade. In 2021, he earned some minutes in the zone in Atlanta Hustle’s defensive second string, a role he reprised in the club season for Chain Lightning.

For those of you keeping score at home, that’s a good prospect getting limited reps with good teams, so you’d expect Miller to be one of the better players on his college team. So, yeah, you could have seen it coming. But not like this. Not in his first College Championships appearance captaining his team to crucial breaks and keeping Jojah’s defense hungry as they cruised beyond any rational person’s predictions and into the final.

On defense, Miller’s best skill is hyper-alertness. He plays the positioning/repositioning/re-repositioning game like a 10-year elite club veteran, pressing cutters progressively tighter into the sideline like so many wrinkles under a hot iron – where, with as quick a draw as anyone in the division, he’s apt to bid for the unwise jamhole throws. Throw in a very pesky mark and don’t-quit attitude: that’s the guy you don’t want to see lining up against you point after point.

It was on offense, however, after the turn – and often after he called a timeout, which he did with a frequency surpassed only by his former captain Jon Ross Ingley – that Miller truly separated himself. It was not a role he had played on such a stage before, so I suppose he was simply born to it. With poise and patience beyond his experience, he mushed the line into the end zone time and again without ever appearing to panic, coolly knifing his teammates into power positions, dropping low for backhands at obscene angles, and generally bouncing around like a rogue popcorn kernel.

With such a brilliant performance already behind him and at least two more College Series left in his career, no accomplishment seems out of reach for Adam Miller.

1st Runner-Up

Jasper Dean (Washington)

Washington's Jasper Dean. Photo: Rodney Chen -- UltiPhotos.com
Washington’s Jasper Dean. Photo: Rodney Chen — UltiPhotos.com

As a former junior National Team tryout, Jasper Dean’s rise did not have come completely out of nowhere. But while playing YCC in Seattle and then again when he headed to UW, he was often overshadowed by more decorated teammates in his class like Tony Venneri and Jack Brown. Those two have already earned their plaudits on D-I awards podiums over the past two seasons — now it’s Dean’s turn.

Dean added some completely unnecessary length to Washington’s big O-line throwing corps, a long lefty with sharp throws and quick-decision making. On a line with very experienced teammates with plenty of chemistry, Dean could have easily taken a conservative, possession-oriented backseat. But he never played as if he was content to let his teammates carry the heaviest loads. Instead, he was purposeful and on the attack.

Not only was Dean comfortable getting into touch-heavy handler sets that involved a healthy dose of quick footwork and execution, but at Nationals, he was often directing traffic, pointing and communicating the defensive point of weakness. This sort of field vision should serve Dean well as he grows into a pure center handler for the Sundodgers, as he seems primed to do.

2nd Runner-Up

Xavier Fuzat (Texas)

Texas's Xavier Fuzat. Photo: Paul Rutherford -- UltiPhotos.com
Texas’s Xavier Fuzat. Photo: Paul Rutherford — UltiPhotos.com

As it turned out, on a roster loaded with veterans like Noah Chambers, Matthew Armour, and Vinay Valsaraj, it was sophomore Xavier Fuzat who stood out as one of Texas TUFF‘s top players.

Highlighted by a 6 goal, 2 assist performance in the pre-quarters against Tulane, Fuzat really made a name for himself at Nationals. He was a goal-scoring machine for Texas, routinely getting open downfield to give TUFF a much-needed vertical element to their offense and helping deliver them to the quarterfinals in Norco. This has been a long way coming for the sophomore; he made the Austin Sol this past season, but found out he tore his ACL on the same day he made the team and never got the chance to play. The fall Series was a chance to get back on the field and make up for lost time, which he capitalized on with gusto.

After accumulating the second-highest goal scoring tally of anyone in Norco, Fuzat could be in line for an even larger role for Texas in the spring of 2022. If he keeps scoring at the same rate, go ahead and put him on the shortlist for Offensive Player of the Year consideration.

  1. Edward Stephens
    Edward Stephens

    Edward Stephens has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. He writes and plays ultimate in Athens, Georgia.

  2. Chris McGlynn

    Chris has been playing ultimate for close to a decade starting in Westfield, NJ. He played throughout college with Syracuse Scooby Doom before graduating in 2018. In his free time, Chris runs The Ultimate Podcast, interviewing athletes about their experiences with ultimate. You can reach him by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter (@theultimatecast).

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